Bernini kept undisputed control over artistic life in Rome for more than half a century. Behold the roots of heaven. They may be made of stone…
…He even managed to put sensuousness at the service of the church. Discerning tourists have long been puzzled by the figure of Saint Theresa in the Cornaro chapel. With her head thrown back as in a swoon, lips parted, eyes half shut, she seems to have been caught in an unguarded moment of sexual fulfillment. Charles De Brosses, an eighteenth-century French magistrate and writer who traveled widely in Italy, commented after seeing the statue of the saint: “If that is divine love, I too have known it.” But Bernini was merely being faithful to the Spanish Carmelite’s own description of her “transverberation,” when her heart was pierced by the fiery arrow of divine love.In Freudian terms the description is an obvious sexual fantasy:
“…Beside me, on the left hand, appeared an angel in bodily form, such as I am not in the habit of seeing except very rarely. Though I often have visions of angels, I do not see them……He was not tall but short, and very beautiful; and his face was so aflame that he appeared to be one of the highest rank of angels, who seem to be all on fire….In his hands I saw a great golden spear, and at the iron tip there appeared to be a point of fire. This he plunged into my heart several times so that it penetrated to my entrails. When he pulled it out, I felt that he took them with it, and left me utterly consumed by the great love of God. The pain was so severe that it made me utter several moans. The sweetness caused by this
intense pain is so extreme that one cannot possibly wish it to cease, nor is one’s soul then content with anything but God. ….”
In the Saint Theresa and in his Death of the Blessed Ludovica Albertoni, in the Altieri chapel, Bernini adopted the Counter Reformation belief in ecstasy as an attitude of sainthood. Instead of the naive, untroubled saints of the Fra Angelico, his are shown with muscled contorted in religious devotion and faces expressing divine love in explicitly physical terms.